Originally published August 2010 at Tonic.
Never underestimate the power of a strong doggie paddle!
Every summer hoards of beach-goers swarm the Italian coasts, and each year, the Italian Coast Guard estimates they rescue 3,000 people.
Working along side them is a team of very specialized lifeguards who are responsible for saving many lives during these seaside months — the graduates of canine lifeguarding school.
"Dogs are useful in containing the physical fatigue of the lifeguard, to increase the speed at which casualties are retrieved, to increase the security of both the casualty and of the lifeguard," Roberto Gasbarri, coordinator of the Italian School of Canine Lifeguards, told the Associated Press.
The program is three years long and trains dogs to rescue swimmers in trouble. The lifedogs wear buoys or tow a raft on which the victim can hold on while the dogs pull them to safety. The pups are particularly useful in missions where they need to jump from helicopters or fast boats, as they are much more capable than humans in these extreme situations.
"The dog becomes a sort of intelligent lifebuoy," said Gasbarri. "It is a buoy that goes by itself to a person in need of help, and comes back to the shore also by himself, choosing the best landing point and swimming through the safest currents."
There are currently 300 life-saving pups deployed on the Italian coast lines. Most of the dogs tend to be retrievers, but the only requirement to become a lifedog is weighing more than 66 lbs.
"Being retrievers, they set out to pick up anything we tell them, be it a human being, an object, or a fish, and they bring it back to the shore," said lifeguard Monia Luciani. "They do not associate it with a physical activity, but it is rather a game for them."
To find out more about the Italian School of Canine Lifeguards, visit www.canisalvataggio.it
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Photo courtesy of Scuola Italiana Cani Salvataggio.
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